This past week has found me making almost daily treks to Smithville. Wednesday was the day I stopped at the cemetery there and took the photos in the previous post. On that same day I also stopped at a little historic cemetery at Alum Creek, again for the purposes of fulfilling a request for a tombstone photo. I was not able to find the stone in question, but I strolled the cemetery three times to be sure I had searched diligently for it.
The Alum Creek cemetery is really unique. It is thickly wooded and while it is still an active cemetery, there is not all that much available space for new graves. There are at least 100 graves that are marked with petrified wood and sandstone chunks and no other markings. Traffic whips by on adjacent Highway 71, but deep in the trees it is a peaceful place. Normally.
Yesterday I made my last trip of the week to Smithville, passing the Alum Creek area about 10:00 in the morning. From Smithville I made a huge loop to Paige, Elgin and on to Austin. I returned home late in the afternoon by way of Webberville, a twisty little road that I love to take on occasion. When I topped the last hill and could see Bastrop below me, I also saw the smoke.
I've lived in the thick of a pine forest for ten years now and the thought of fire is ever-present during droughts, every long, hot summer and on New Year's Eve. I knew the billowing smoke was coming from somewhere very near my subdivision. To make things more scary, we were having monster winds yesterday, all day, in the neighborhood of 40 mph gusts. I dropped my plans for a quick stop at the grocery store and made a beeline for home. As I turned onto the highway, I fell in behind the Austin news vans. I knew they weren't in Bastrop for anything but a big fire.
I was relieved when I reached the turn into the subdivision and the smoke clouds were still ahead, but they weren't that far off. When I got home, the first thing I did was check that I knew where all the pets and all the pet carriers were. Then I started looking for a news report that might tell me just how close the danger was. I learned the fire was centered in Alum Creek, about 5-7 miles from my house.
Normally I would have relaxed a little to know it was that far away, but with the horrible winds and the solid forest on the east side of Bastrop, I couldn't rest easy. I kept one ear on the news reports, one ear to the door in case the evacuators arrived and set about gathering the family photos and my few pieces of good jewelry and essential papers together so that I could scoop everything into the car if the need arose. I located several boxes and loaded my genealogy notebooks into those. (The dogs at this point had decided Mommy was completely nuts. She's gone all day, comes in panicked, takes them for a walk, and then dumps a bunch of notebooks into boxes. Loony tunes, indeed.)
By the time I fell asleep, it seemed the fire was moving in the opposite direction. During the course of the evening, it was reported that a cemetery was on fire and even the stones were burning. I knew it had to be the Alum Creek Cemetery I had just visited. As soon as the smoke clears and the fireman are gone, I will go and see just how much damage the tombstones suffered. I know the thick stand of trees are surely reduced to stubs.
Just a few yards down from the cemetery a cluster of old buildings have long housed the Alum Creek Antique Center. Mother and I used to go there regularly, but the stores we had frequented closed and the stores that replaced them were not to our liking, so we stopped going there in favor of the antique stores in Elgin and Smithville. The last time I went out there, I spent most of my time in a building lined with old, musty books and a proprietor who would see you pick up a book on, say the history of something, and then start pulling books from every corner of the building that had the slightest connection to the subject. Drove this confirmed browser crazy, so I never went back.
From the reports I've heard the cluster of buildings burned to the ground last night. My first thought was all those books gone. My second thought was for the few stores that carried really fine antiques and all that history that was gone in the blink of an eye.
But when it gets right down to it, the 9 businesses that burned were a sad loss, but much worse was the loss of 23 homes that also burned, not to mention all of the livestock and wildlife that were affected. There was considerable effort made to evacuate as much of the livestock as possible, but those woods are full of deer, rabbits, birds, raccoons and countless other species who lost their homes and I'm sure many of them lost their lives.
One spark of a power line torn down by high winds. Continued high winds to whip that spark into a frenzy. 600 acres burned. Lush woods at 10:00 in the morning when I last saw them. Cinders and ash less than 24 hours later.